Apple's App Store saves over $1.5B from fraud in 2020

Alvin R. Cabral

Last updated on May 11, 2021 at 09.04 pm

Apple on Tuesday revealed that its App Store ecosystem has prevented more than $1.5 billion fraudulent transactions in 2020, highlighting its continued fight against bad actors who relentlessly attempt to use the platform for illicit activity.

The iPhone-maker has enjoyed new highs thanks in large part to the performance of its services unit. And parallel to this growth is the company’s assurance on privacy and security for its users, which it has backed up with R&D and deployment of key tools and functionalities.

Apple’s actions are key to its ecosystem, which is a highly-intricate web tying together its hardware, software and human-team units. Nokia’s 2020 Threat Intelligence Report, citing analysts and experts, deemed the App Store as the ‘safest place’ to find and download apps, which has also been acknowledged by the US National Security Agency.

Payment activity — arguably the most crucial and tempting part in e-commerce — was a prime focus for Apple, as it was able to prevent over three million cards from being stolen, with more than one million accounts banned from transacting again — resulting in the over $1.5 billion figure.

Apple’s App Review team — the store’s ‘essential line of defence’ — have their hands full reviewing each and every app submitted for inclusion while setting out revised guidelines to keep up with constantly changing threats and policies.

Over 180,000 developers were helped in launching their apps, but it wasn’t smooth sailing all the time: Apps can take multiple revisions before being accepted, due to reasons such as not functioning properly or failing to sufficiently moderate user-generated content.

As such, almost one million problematic new apps, plus a further one million updates, were either rejected or removed altogether for these reasons in 2020 alone.

A smaller set of apps were tossed for other violations such as harmful content, diminished experience, were discovered to have undocumented features and found to be spam, copycats or misleading users into making undue purchases. More than 215,000 apps alone were canned for privacy violations.

Other apps were removed after their functionalities were switched to become, among others, real-money gambling platforms, predatory loan issuers, pornography hubs and drug-trade platforms.

Ratings and reviews are also a highly-controlled vertical on the App Store, considering the prevalence of fake content. Apple says it uses machine learning, artificial intelligence and human reviews on its sophisticated system for this endeavour, ensuring accuracy and trust principles.

More than one billion ratings and over 100 million reviews, and more than 250 million ratings and reviews were removed since 2020. Apple has also recently rolled out tools to verify the authenticity of ratings and reviews.

To control fraudulent activity, Apple terminated 470,000 developer accounts and rejected 205,000 enrollments that had the aim of using the App Store for illicit activity. On the anti-piracy front, almost 110,000 illegitimate apps were discovered and subsequently blocked. And in the past month alone, over 3.2 million instances of apps distributed illicitly through the Apple Developer Enterprise Program were blocked.

Furthermore, 244 million customer accounts were deactivated due to fraudulent and abusive activity last year, with a further 424 million rejected as they showed patterns of this.